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Most lifters have used caffeine to boost performance. In fact, I can, without question, say that every lifter I know has. Many times, however, they arbitrarily ingest caffeine without planning. If they did their homework, they'd find that they are potentially missing out on a big performance boost.
No worries, though, I've done the homework for us. Below you'll find the background and a sample scenario for strong caffeine timing.
Before we jump into timing caffeine intake
to boost weight-room performance, let's touch on why caffeine gives lifters a performance boost. Foundations of understanding make application easier.
Past research on caffeine's ergogenic use suspected the same mechanism for improving performance of endurance and anaerobic exercise: energy use and sparing.
Researchers propose that caffeine ingestion prior to endurance activity improves free-fatty acid oxidation and spares glycogen, therefore prolonging performance
at close to peak levels. Originally, it was believed that the anaerobic ergogenic effect was due to a similar mechanism; but since anaerobic exercise doesn't require oxygen for energy, this theory doesn't add up for single-set lift performance (3). It may, however, be applicable for long, high-volume resistance training sessions.
A slightly better lift performance theory involves the sodium/potassium pump. As the story goes, caffeine augments concentration of each and promotes stronger muscular contractions. While this theory is better than the original as it applies to anaerobic exercise, it's not the pinnacle.
As with most substances that elicit a strong systemic effect, caffeine's effect on the central nervous system is most likely the profound device that boosts lifting performance
. The exact contrivance isn't a certainty, but it is likely caffeine's ability to work in opposition to adenosine, a substance that blunts nerve transmission and elicits a pain response. Put simply, caffeine numbs the pain, reduces our rate of perceived exertion and improves nervous signaling, thus improving the body's ability to hoist iron (1).
Caffeine and Your Bloodstream
It's purported that caffeine is absorbed through the stomach lining; but most research refutes this. Instead
it is absorbed by the small intestine. How quickly it travels through the digestive tract and encounters the villi, however, depends on the amount of food swishing through the stomach acid. Full stomach? It will take longer for caffeine to take effect.
Your chosen mode of ingestion must also be considered: liquid vs. solid forms. As with most ingestible substances, liquid forms of caffeine are absorbed and distributed through the body more quickly than solid forms. Liquid forms of caffeine are absorbed and distributed as quickly as forty minutes. Solid, or pill forms, however take significantly longer—up to or over an hour (4).
Pre-Workout Formulations and Caffeine
[Editor's Note: In the old days, pioneers in the bodybuilding game like Frank Zane or Arnold Schwarzenegger would very likely prime for a workout with a simple cup of coffee. These days, athletes have many pre-workout formulations to choose from and just about all of them contain caffeine in one form or another. A solid, comprehensive pre-workout like AlphaFury from BioQuest contains 300mg of caffeine per dose, derived from guarana, which is more than enough to get you dialed in and ready to produce. AlphaFury also contains a targeted muscle pump agent in GlycoCarn, plus beta alanine for endurance support, and waxy maize carbs for muscle fuel and insulin upregulation, as well.
If you're looking for even more pathways for optimized performance, BioQuest's AndroFury also contains state-of-the-art pump agents, endurance support, and 250mg of caffeine, and then adds a full-spectrum, protodioscin-rich botanical super compound to the mix to maximize endogenous testosterone levels. That's first-class, top-to-bottom workout support!
Of course, caffeine appears in many supplement forms, and some athletes prefer the most basic approach, such as ProSource's Extreme Caffeine, which combines 200mg of caffeine anhydrous with 200mg of calcium to support thermogenesis and energy production. Any way you take it, caffeine gets the job done!]
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If the day's plan is to pick up a heavily loaded bar while keeping the session short, we've must be mindful of how quickly caffeine affects the CNS. The intensity, timing and duration of the effect depends upon the person. It also depends on emotional state and the expectation of the desired effect. But in most cases, it's going to take between forty-five and ninety minutes for caffeine to completely cross the blood brain barrier.
All of this information is considered relative to caffeine tolerance. Chronic caffeine consumers build tolerance that requires them to consume more to elicit the desired effect. That's not rocket science, but, all the same, it's worth mentioning. With that in mind, remember that effective dosage is individually dependent.
We've got the background; now let's put our understanding to good use.
I'm not one for using information out of context, so let's apply our newly found caffeine knowledge to prepping for a heavy deadlift session. During the session we'll hit thirteen sets
five sets of two at a moderate rate. Consider them a glorified warm-up. After the initial five sets, you'll complete eight sets of two in pyramid fashion, working up to a heavy double that you could have squeezed for two more reps. Let's not forget that the emphasis during this deadlift date is on creating massive tension and bar speed.
Thirteen sets of fast and heavy deadlifts require serious nervous system output over an extended period of time; given that the appropriate rest period of 3-5 minutes is followed. If the full five minutes of rest are taken for each set the session will last one hour.
We know that we want our peak performance to hit when we are at the tip of the pyramid sets, close to half-way through the session. And, besides our beloved ergogenic friend caffeine, we'll ingest nothing other than BCAAs
, meaning we'll be operating essentially on an empty stomach.
In list form, here's a breakdown of the factors we'll consider when timing out our caffeine consumption:
- High load of CNS intensive training.
- The session will last one hour.
- Our peak performance is expected half way through the session.
- We'll be training with only amino acids in our stomach.
Keeping this information in mind, we'd take our caffeine around thirty minutes prior to starting our first deadlift set, giving it plenty of time to navigate an empty digestive tract, permeate cells and cross the blood brain barrier. We'll use our blunted pain response, improved neurologic function and hyper-focus to rip the bar for two monstrous reps.
Most people meander through the day indiscriminately sipping coffee to stay awake at work. We aren't most people. Now that you're armed with the knowledge of mechanism, absorption and metabolism, you can time caffeine intake for stronger workouts.
Do you take a pre-workout formulation before you hit the gym floor? What do you take? How long BEFORE your workout do you take it? Let us know in the comments field below!
1. Astorino, T., & Roberson, D. (2010). Efficacy of acute caffeine ingestion for short-term high-intensity exercise performance: a systematic review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1), 257-265.
2. Barry, R., Clark, A., Johnstone, S., & Rushby , J. (2008). Timing of caffeine's impact on autonomic and central nervous system measures: clarification of arousal effects. Biological Psychology, 77(3), 304-316.
3. Davis , J., & Green, J. (2009). Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action. Sports Medicine, 39(10), 813-832.
4. Liguori , A., Hughes, J., & Grass, J. (1997). Absorption and subjective effects of caffeine from coffee, cola and capsules. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 58(3), 721-726.